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The game is built using Simutronics’ HeroEngine, licensed to Bioware Austin. Our testing shows that there are two graphics options that affect performance in a significant way: bloom and shader detail. The other settings don't appear to have as much impact on performance, even at the maximum setting.
Unfortunately, when the shader detail setting is lowered, shadows disappear (except for subtle blobs). Here is how the game looks at its Low preset (with bloom disabled and the shader level set to low) compared to the High setting (with bloom enabled and the shader level maxed out).
As you can see, the depth afforded by shadows adds a lot to the game, and high detail is obviously superior. Our one complaint is that shadow resolution is very blocky, regardless of detail setting, and when your character walks under a tree, it appears to be covered in grey blocks. In any case, similar to World of Warcraft, the cartoonish art is acceptable at low detail settings, so folks with low-end hardware can still enjoy the game.
Like all games, Star Wars: The Old Republic benefits from anti-aliasing. This is where things get a little complicated. The in-game anti-aliasing setting is disabled in the beta, so we had to find a workaround. Forcing AA through AMD's Catalyst driver worked, but it didn't on Nvidia's GeForce-based cards. A bit of research revealed that 4x MSAA could be forced in-game using the title's client_settings.ini file by adding the line “AntiAliasingLevel = 4”. This tweak worked with the Nvidia cards, but then wouldn't on AMD's (except for newer Radeon HD 6900-series boards). Despite the anti-aliasing mess, which will hopefully be worked out soon, we're at least able to test the game with the feature enabled on all hardware, albeit through different means.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of transparent textures in the game that don’t benefit from multi-sample anti-aliasing. The good news is that both AMD’s Adaptive AA and Nvidia’s Transparent AA work with this title. As you can see in the comparison shot above, transparency anti-aliasing really improves the quality of foliage, even if the benchmarks demonstrate its adverse effect on frame rates.